After last weekend’s race at Richmond International Raceway, one thing on everyone’s mind was the on-track spat between Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman that continued in verbal sparring afterward. Did either driver go too far with their actions or words?
Clayton Caldwell, Contributor: I respect the passion from both drivers and I understand why Ryan Newman was upset. However, the comments he made about the sprint car incident went a little too far. I am not for someone making a personal attack on another driver. You can say whatever you want that happened on the racetrack, but there’s a line, and Newman crossed it.
Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: Both crossed a line on the track. Newman chopped Tony Stewart about three times before Stewart decided he wasn’t going to take it any more. Was it great racing? No, but Matt DiBenedetto intentionally spun Casey Mears for a lesser offense than Newman’s and nobody freaked out about it. If it had been anyone but Stewart, most people would have shrugged that incident off as a bit of a dirty deal but precipitated by the other driver as well. Newman’s comments were way out of line. Without coming out and saying it directly, he implied that he feels that Stewart killed a person intentionally, an opinion that he should have kept to himself, and made a psychiatric diagnosis he’s not qualified to make. Stewart’s on-track actions were dirty but forgivable as he wasn’t the only one, and he’ll hardly be the last.
Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: Stewart has gone too far with his actions for two straight weeks. A driver that has a documented history of swerving across traffic to run into people (i.e., Matt Kenseth 2006 Daytona 500) and then openly gloats about it isn’t punished? Yes, it’s his final season, but that doesn’t give him carte blanche to start wrecking people. While Brian Scott might not be held in the highest regard within the series, intentionally causing accidents at 160 mph is a safety hazard, and one to which you’d think Stewart would be more sympathetic. Newman on the other hand, he knows Stewart probably better than anybody else in the garage — perhaps he’s privy to things we aren’t and never will be. I will say that airing dirty laundry like that on national television is bad for business and doesn’t help the situation at all.
Phil Allaway, Newsletter Editor: Newman’s comments were out of line — that was ridiculous. Stewart has stated that there was nothing intentional about what happened in Canandaigua, N.Y. That said, the wreck Saturday night was intentional, and it didn’t need to happen.
Aaron Bearden, Assistant Editor: No one’s innocent here. Stewart went too far by taking out a handful of drivers along with Newman, and Newman went too far with his comments after the crash. I can understand the anger on both sides – Stewart suffered contact multiple times with Newman throughout the night, and Newman saw his Chase hopes end with the crash. Both drivers just took things a bit too far.
The Chase kicks off Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. Who do you think will go the distance, and who’s out after Dover International Speedway?
Bryan Gable, Staff Writer: The first round is tricky, because most people assume that the four drivers who will get eliminated are the four who have generally exhibited the weakest performance during the season. In that regard, Chris Buescher, Austin Dillon, Jamie McMurray and Stewart will be the first drivers to go. However, here is what will probably happen: Buescher gets eliminated, Dillon runs OK but cannot get the points he needs to advance, either McMurray or Stewart run poorly and get knocked out, and one other driver has horribly bad luck, leading to an early exit from the Chase.
Mark Howell, Senior Writer: Buescher, McMurray and Dillon will be out come Dover. Not to wish these three bad luck (and my naming them will likely result in their winning the first three races), but I don’t see their teams as having the stamina to make round two. Kyle Larson will win the Cup title. He’s been highly consistent this season and seems energized by his team’s success. He’ll be good down the stretch and the driver to beat come Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Jeff Wolfe, Senior Writer: I’m picking Martin Truex, Jr. to win the title because he has been good on a variety of style tracks all season. I would be surprised if Buescher makes it to the second round; making the Chase at all is a great story and he’s certainly the biggest underdog, but with only two top-10 finishes all season it’s hard to see him making it past Dover.
Bearden: If you’re looking for the top contenders, look at the results over the past few weeks. Truex, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick are among the favorites, and Larson has established himself as a strong dark horse. On the other end of the spectrum, expect those that just squeaked into the Chase — Buescher, McMurray, Dillon — to be the ones sitting out after Dover if their competitors don’t have issues.
Caldwell: Buescher is out after Dover; it’s been a nice run for that team, but I don’t know if they have the resources to compete with the major teams in the Cup Series. Dillon is another guy who could be in trouble for similar reasons; Richard Childress Racing hasn’t won a race in almost two years. A driver to look at for the championship is Truex; he and his team have had fast cars every week. If the team can put some strong races together and have that rotten luck go away, Truex is a favorite to win it.
Nobody new won their way into the Chase at Richmond. Is there a winless driver out there who can play spoiler for the Chasers this fall?
Allaway: At this point, winless drivers that could be a spoiler would include McMurray and Chase Elliott (already in the Chase), and possibly Kasey Kahne or Trevor Bayne outside of it. They’ve both shown signs of good form, but they need great days in order to truly contend.
Caldwell: One is Ryan Blaney. His team has shown some speed in recent weeks and need to find some consistency. If it can do that, there’s a possibility Blaney can pull off a victory. Another team may be Kahne’s. It’s been a tough couple of years for him, and the No. 5 needs to have a strong final 10 races in 2016 to help build momentum. And with the success Hendrick Motorsports is capable of, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kahne in Victory Lane.
Henderson: There are a couple who could squeeze out a win. Blaney is the best bet because he’s been strong at a variety of tracks. Kahne has been decent lately. David Ragan and Mears are both exceptional restrictor-plate racers too, so while a spoiler win is unlikely, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
Pugliese: The Roush-Yates-powered cars are always a threat at the plate tracks, and Newman has some new found motivation following Richmond, plus RCR cars at Talladega Superspeedway have a favorable track record. If we’re talking spoilers, following the Big One, Bayne puts the flagship No. 6 back in Victory Lane for Roush Fenway Racing. Of the winless Chase competitors, Elliott could put it all together by year’s end, somehow, somewhere.
Howell: Both Blaney and Kahne have the potential to crash the winners’ party during these next 10 races. Bayne is also capable of stealing an upset victory. These three are long shots, however, given the strength of the top 16 running for the title.
Richard Petty Motorsports announced that Drew Blickensderfer will take over crew chief duties for Aric Amirola. Is the change enough to turn Almirola’s season around or does the team need a bigger overhaul?
Bearden: Richard Petty Motorsports can make as many crew chief and pit road changes as it wants, but until its cars actually have mechanical speed, any gains are going to be incremental at best. This feels more like a move to prepare for 2017 than to try to salvage what’s left of this season.
Caldwell: I don’t understand this move at all. Trent Owens and Aric Almirola had some success in recent seasons, and the team just made a major change letting Sammy Johns go. Both cars for that organization have been horrible this season, and everyone knew there were going to be some growing pains. I don’t understand why Owens had to pay for that with his job. If it was just the No. 43 team struggling, it would make a lot more sense.
Gable: RPM needed to do something, but taking Owens out of the pits does not make sense. The problems with the No. 43 team have been with the baseline setups the team is developing at the shop, especially since it started building its own chassis this year. Almirola and Owens have generally been a good team, and replacing him with Blickensderfer (with his track record of spotty success) is not the answer to getting RPM back on track.
Pugliese: The No. 43 is just off compared to previous years. Keep in mind it was RPM that helped Roush Fenway Racing out of its doldrums a few years ago, but now as Roush becomes a bit more competitive, it’s RPM that has lost a step or two. It hasn’t been able to do much with the low-downforce package, and former crew chief Owens readily admitted they’ve just had a hard time getting their arms around this particular package this season. What would benefit RPM the most would be a strategic alliance with Team Penske, not Roush. RFR hasn’t been up to snuff for a few years, and now it’s dragging both programs down. That coupled with Almirola having to do most of the heavy lifting given his teammates’ lack of Cup chops is making for a tough row to hoe.